If you don’t have a mentor, put finding one at the top of your to-do list. Having the support of someone who’s already been through the trenches—and come out ahead—can make a world of difference in your career success and satisfaction.
A mentor or a sponsor (someone within your company who advocates for your advancement) can motivate you and offer crucial advice during trying times—and if you’re ambivalent about your current gig or itching for a career change, research shows that being mentored is one of the best ways to prepare for a better job, says Anna Beninger, a senior research associate at Catalyst, a nonprofit dedicating to expanding opportunities for women in business.
“[They] can help you identify and navigate ‘stretch assignments’ as well as other ways to grow. In many cases, [they] may also offer contacts that lead to a new position, whether it’s within your current organization or outside of it,” says Beninger.
To get matched with your perfect mentor…
• Identify at least four or five people with career trajectories you’d like to emulate, advises Beninger. Stumped? Ask successful friends and colleagues for recommendations. Don’t rule out candidates with jobs that aren’t identical to yours; in many cases, you’ll learn the most from a mentor who has skills and knowledge that differ from your own. While it’s not necessary to find a mentor who has multiple sclerosis, an empathetic person with some understanding of chronic medical conditions is ideal.
• Make an introduction. You can approach potential mentors in person, via phone, or by email, says Beninger. Just be sure to do your research first; personalizing your note (“Jane, I’ve long admired your work as a marketer, especially your recent campaign”) will dramatically up your odds of receiving a positive response.
• Keep at it. “It may take several inquiries to find the right match, but there are a lot of accomplished individuals who are happy to share their knowledge and experience,” says Beninger.
• Pay it forward. The best relationships are reciprocal, so when you do find a great mentor, look for opportunities to show your appreciation. Passing on articles of interest, treating her to coffee, or connecting her to other great people in your network are all smart ways to demonstrate that you’re thankful she’s sharing her time, talent and experience with you.
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